Saturday, June 29

Tokyo Night Ride: A Shadow Story Arc In ‘Solaris’ by Guy Dugdale

How to understand that strange floating freeway ride in Solaris? A dark parody of Kubrick's 'Stargate' sequence in 2001. A glimpse of a kind of hell, the 'fallen' cosmonaut Berton's alienated view of life on Earth, and so a warning or 'shadow narrative' for Kelvin: return home is impossible.

Just over half an hour into Tarkovsky’s Solaris we are suddenly tracking, with that familiar smooth disembodied unfolding perspective of the passenger, down the urban ring-roads of Tokyo, though the city is not identified. In plot terms, Henri Berton has quarreled with soon-to-depart Kris Kelvin and his father, and is travelling away from the dacha.  Though less than five minutes long, the sequence seems overextended at first, referring to nothing else in the film. In fact, it is oddly pivotal, serving several clear purposes.

As those who enjoyed the 2012 BFI season will be aware, there had been a history of occasional Soviet science fiction cinema since 1924. Famously, Tarkovsky, though he proposed the project, had no interest in the genre. Details of “the material structure of the future” and its “technological processes”, he complained, express only an empty “exoticism” which substitutes for and prevents the fiction being grounded in that human reality which is the only subject for art. For Tarkovsky, surfaces, objects and places are what the ‘exterior’ art of cinema has to work with, to refer to deeper, more oblique, uncertain, interior things. He could hardly agree to subsume this visual language to a techno-fetishised spectacle.

Friday, June 28

Solaris: A Pilgrimage of Self-Examination by Kiefer Taylor

Kiefer Taylor sees Solaris as an invitation to confront and examine the fragility and complexity of the human spirit. He argues that Tarkovsky’s declared lack of interest in science fiction allowed him to make a film cracking open the fantastical edifice of the genre, leading audiences to nothing less than a spiritual reawakening.

Upon its release in 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky’s meditative science fiction feature Solaris was greeted well amongst critics and general audiences. Not only did it receive the Special Jury Prize at Cannes (back then considered the second most prestigious award of the festival) but it also ran for more than fifteen years without breaks in the Soviet Union. Due to Tarkovsky’s vehement rejection of genre, however, the director himself was left underwhelmed.

In his insightful (at times baffling) book Sculpting In Time Tarkovsky states, “Unfortunately the science fiction element of Solaris was nonetheless too prominent and became a distraction.” When viewing Solaris one may be puzzled by the director’s severe self-assessment. Even with the visual tropes of science fiction – from high-tech spaceships to rockets - the film retains the mystical charms of Tarkovsky’s world with the core themes of longing and the sullied souls of man being ever-present. In doing so, the film asks us to look beyond futuristic sensations of outer space and technological advancements and into the interior feelings of its distraught protagonist.

Tuesday, June 25

Four Views of Cinema - Part Two: Searching for Ways of Experiencing Film by Charles Rees


In this article Charles Rees offers his personal insights about how image and sound can be re-‘read’ in such a way as to transcend current narrative constraints. He offers examples of films which have influenced and impressed him, and extrapolates on ways in which cinema might develop in the future.

My four views stretch over a long period.
Each individual sees differently.
The Camera Image sees differently from humans.

Second View: Story-Orientated Blindness

This second view of Cinema was analytical. I was a film-editor in British Cinema – a phrase which the young director Francois Truffaut considered to be a contradiction in terms. It was exciting to cut film. I developed an abstracted way of looking at film that insured me against taking a story-orientated attitude. I would concentrate on the surface rhythms of a film, however tenuous they might be, banishing understanding of its content to the back of my mind. I treasured the way of seeing I had experienced at L'eclisse and needed to exercise and strengthen it. I might need it one day
for a visual film.
     The film eventually came as a television documentary,  Between Dreaming and Waking, about the Ruralist painter David Inshaw, directed by Geoffrey Haydon1. It brought the viewer towards nature through the sensibility of the painter, in a series of slow-tempo shots, mainly of the Wiltshire landscape, accompanied by natural atmospheres and a ‘soundscape’ composed by Mike Ratledge and Karl Jenkins. Occasional snatches of speech were ‘brushed across the frame’, in Haydon’s phrase. Here was contemplative material. Everything in the frame was deliberate, every colour, shape and texture. The natural sounds were clear and sometimes seemed definitive: we got from the BBC library ‘the best blackbird song’ that ended unusually emphatically to evoke the lure of women on the painter. My abstracted approach worked for the first time. I describe it in detail because it led to a discovery.

Tuesday, June 11

An Undefined Space: Reflections on Frost by Keifer Taylor

Fred Keleman’s obscure 1997 feature Frost is a gruelling yet thoroughly engrossing experience. A nihilistic world of domestic violence, sexual degradation and ruptured innocence channelled through muted colours and meditative long-takes. Whilst watching the film I felt that this simple, though intricately layered tale of a mother and son’s listless journey across a wintry German landscape cleverly plays with ones notion of the real and the unreal. In doing so, Keleman delves into the undefined space where reality and fiction collide.
When referring to cinema Hitchcock famously said, “drama is life with the dull bits cut out”. 

Like his Hungarian acolyte, Bela Tarr (The Man From London and The Turin Horse), Keleman displays a radical rejection of this dictum. The reality of Frost resides in Keleman’s observation of quotidian lives wrapped in the fictitious foil of the plot. This emphasis on the mundane everyday seems to regard plot as having secondary importance. For example, after arriving at the hotel, greeted by a sombre, bearded receptionist, Micha and his mother, Marianne, move out of the frame. Without warning, our focus is shifted to the taciturn receptionist as we observe him lying down to smoke a cigarette. In a way, this inexplicable scene may mirror the main characters’ search for relief, being compared to that of the respite granted by the musky taste of tobacco. On the flipside, it may merely be read as a moment removed from the narrative, leaving the spectator to ponder the deep-seated problems of anonymous characters.

Friday, June 7

See My Face: Two Singular Visions of Horror by Phoenix Alexander

Two singular visions of horror

          Criticised for decades of increasing mindlessness, paper-thin characters, cheap-loud-noise-scares, lazy writing, and gratuitous use of violence, horror movies had to get smart.  Specifically, they had to get meta.  AgainCue last year's The Cabin in the Woods: a gloriously extravagant send-up to the creatures that haunt our dreams - most of which were granted an exhilarating frame or two in the bombastic finale.  That the closing spectacle is so effective is, I argue, due to its embodying the apotheosis of the realisation of horror: by showing, literally, everything (demons, giant reptiles, pale-faced young girls and myriad other horror clichés), Cabin neutralises the aspect of fear and elides the comedic – even farcical – despite its inclusion of frequent, very bloody scenes.  Simply put: horror dissipates when dragged, un-obscured, into the field of vision. 

            The movie ends with the 'destruction' of the world by the Dark God: a cataclysm suggesting the (artistic) death of the genre and the concomitant punishment of an audience reduced to a baying, bloodthirsty horde that would put the Aztecs to shame (fittingly, Cabin's deity bursts forth from the depths of an ancient temple).  Given horror's symbolic 'death', then, we must ask ourselves, again, that most primal of questions: what is it that makes us afraid?  And how can the visual medium of cinema work to relay these anxieties?  It is time to restore the horror genre to its full potency, to reorient it in the territory of the frightening; for that, we turn to the past.  Audiences, as Cabin satirises, have been reduced to spectators of the suffering body - and we must ask why, and for what purpose horror cinema mediates and produces such intoxicating effects.  Put simply, there is something troubling at work in the psyche, and reflected in the psychic affect of cinema.